This is what nice guy syndrome is: Some men grow up in family systems that don’t allow them to be their full selves. These men then choose to meet the needs of others over themselves. In reality it has nothing to do with being nice and everything to do with being inauthentic.
Struggling With Nice Guy Syndrome
Men who have nice guy syndrome are usually living very unsatisfying lives. Their focus is on helping others rather than getting their own needs met. They spend their days considering how they can make their partner happy rather than on what can make them happy.
In his book, No More Mr. Nice Guy, Rober Glover explains what Nice Guys do:
“Nice Guys are concerned about looking good and doing it “right.” They are happiest when they are making others happy. Nice Guys avoid conflict like the plague and will go to great lengths to avoid upsetting anyone. In general, Nice Guys are peaceful and generous. Nice Guys are especially concerned about pleasing women and being different from other men. In a nutshell, Nice Guys believe that if they are good, giving, and caring, they will in return be happy, loved, and fulfilled. (Glover, 2000).
For Nice Guys it isn’t okay to express who they are or to ask for what they want. This inevitably leads to a lot of anxiety, dissatisfaction and repressed anger. This repressed anger often becomes rage that eventually comes out at the people who they believe are supposed to meet their needs. Often times this is their partner.” – Glover, Rober.
Why Men Become Nice Guys
For many of the men they grow up in households where the general message they get is that they are not acceptable for who they are. As young boys, Nice Guys can’t understand that the abandonment that is happening to them (whether literal or emotional) is not about them, but about their wounded caretakers. As children, Nice Guys start to develop beliefs that they are unlovable or unworthy. This leads to a feeling of shame that pervades their behaviors. This is the beginning of Nice Guys denying their true self.
Nice Guys often have fathers that are unavailable.
These are fathers are alcoholics, workaholics or just generally don’t involve themselves int their son’s lives. These abandoned boys must transition to manhood on their own. Without the guidance of a healthy male they have to come up with what it means to be a man.
With the cultural changes of the 60’s and 70’s there was a movement away from a masculinity that was isolated and aggressive to a masculinity that is more peaceful and sensitive. We can all agree that this is healthy transition. However, for some boys growing up during this time the message was that their internal power is dangerous and needs to be denied. This meant that for many boys they denied their power in an attempt to be more acceptable to the women in their lives and to society in general.
Ending Nice Guy Syndrome
As I have worked with men who struggle with this much of our work is around developing clearer boundaries and asking for what they need. This can be so difficult for Nice Guys. They get really uncomfortable with conflict in any form. They don’t believe that they are worthy of getting their needs met.
Ending this syndrome is also about helping to see their partner as someone who is not the be-all and end-all of life. For many Nice Guys they focus all of their attention on their partner with the belief that by focusing on meeting their partner’s needs, at some point their needs will finally get met. When Nice Guys start to shift towards believing that their needs matter they are usually able to start asking for what they want.
One way to help Nice Guys is to put them in the company of men.
For many Nice Guys they feel more comfortable relating to women. They are committed to not showing any of the more traditional masculine stereotypes. They push away any forms of anger or intense feelings that they deem as violent. When Nice Guys can be with other men and see how men can relate in healthy supportive ways they stop believing their own masculinity is bad or wrong.
The goal of working with Nice Guys is to help them integrate in a way that allows their true self to emerge.
This means that they can ask for their needs to be met. An integrated man can let his integrity lead his actions rather than trying to guess at what he thinks others will find acceptable. The integrated man lets people know when they are messing with his boundaries and then steps into this conflict. Integrated men know that they are not perfect and they are okay with that. Integrated men don’t suppress their feelings. They allow themselves to feel angry and the intensity that goes along with this.
How This Shows Up In My Life as a Father, Husband, Coach and Counselor
I lived many of these Nice Guy attributes in my early adult life. I tended to avoid conflict and spend more time in relationship with women. I tried to be good for the woman in my life and focused on their needs. It all led to a lot of failed relationships and disappointment.
Looking back I realize that I got the message from a lot of women that my manhood was not welcome. There was some idea I developed that being a man meant being passive and tamping down my intensity. The problem was that it still came up in passive-aggressive or sarcastic behavior. I was afraid of my power.
Over the last decade I have emerged more as a man that can be fully real with his experience.
I can stand up for what I believe and not shrink when my partner or someone else is in conflict with me. I welcome my anger as a way of establishing clear boundaries with the people I care about.
It has taken me a lot of time to become more integrated and I didn’t necessarily do it in therapy. It was a combination of waking up through body oriented practices and starting to feel my real emotions. When I did this I was able to start to see the patterns that were keeping me from being truly authentic with the people I love.
I still see these patterns of behavior come up and I don’t always catch them. I don’t think these changes need to take a decade. I think I have come to recognize that there are real ways that men can integrate and live much more satisfying lives.
If you need help becoming more integrated and to stop being a “Nice Guy,” schedule a free 30 minute consult.
Brass Balls Tender Heart is a men’s coaching and counseling practice in Denver/Boulder, Colorado. Led by Bryce Mathern, LPC, relationship problems, major stress, and paralyzing anxiety can take a seat in the peripheral view.
Wishing You The Day You Need To Have!
Glover, Robert. (2000) No More Mr. Nice Guy. New York, NY. Barnes and Noble Digital.
Photo by Sydney Sims – Unsplash